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What we know today, Friday March 25


Vulnerable and older Australians will soon be able to get a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose after ATAGI recommended a second booster shot for those aged over 65.

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ATAGI gives tick for second COVID booster shot

Vulnerable and older Australians will soon be able to get a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose after ATAGI recommended a second booster shot for those aged over 65.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation this morning recommended a fourth shot for Australians over 65, Indigenous Australians over 50, those in disability care and those who are immunocompromised over the age of 16.

The doses will be rolled out to those groups from April 4 at pharmacies, GPs and vaccine clinics.

The ATAGI advice recommends the second booster be given to those groups between four and six months after the first booster.

ATAGI said the fourth dose could also be administered four months after a COVID-19 infection, if the infection happened after a person received their first booster.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be recommended for the booster doses, but non-mRNA vaccines such as AstraZeneca and Novavax will also be recommended for a fourth shot, should people prefer those options.

The advice was given ahead of a winter which is expected to bring with it a spike in COVID-19 cases alongside a rise in flu infections.

However, Health Minister Greg Hunt said it was not likely the fourth dose would be expanded soon to include all of the eligible population.

“There’s always continuous review, but at this stage, we’re not predicting that that’s likely to change,” he told reporters on the Gold Coast on Friday.

ATAGI said in a statement there was insufficient evidence of benefits for an additional dose for broader sections of the population.

“Prevention of severe illness from COVID-19 remains the primary goal of the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination program,” the statement said.

“These recommendations for an additional booster dose focus on protecting the most vulnerable groups against severe disease and reducing the potential burden on the healthcare system over the coming months.”

Hunt said the limiting of the fourth dose to certain groups was not due to supply issues.

“We have sufficient vaccines to dose all Australians not just four times but five times,” he said.

“We are protecting the vulnerable, we are reducing harm.”

New COVID committee to consider SA restrictions  

Premier Peter Malinauskas is today expected to announce if there will be any changes to COVID-19 restrictions, after the Emergency Management Council meets for the first time to discuss new modelling.

Malinauskas said this morning that the meeting would include a briefing from Education Minister Blair Boyer.

It comes as the number of school staff sidelined due to coronavirus passed 700 this week.

The premier said he was reluctant to agree to suggestions that term one should end a week early as a result.

“I know teachers are under the pump … but shutting down schools for a week will just cause too much inconvenience and we’ll avoid it any way we can,” Malinauskas told ABC Radio Adelaide.

It comes as South Australia yesterday recorded 4742 new COVID-19 cases – the second-highest daily total since the start of the pandemic – and two deaths.

Hospitalisations dropped slightly to 157, including 10 people in intensive care and one on a ventilator.

Malinauskas told reporters that the numbers reflected modelling released publicly on Tuesday, which showed South Australia was on track to record over 8000 daily COVID-19 cases by April. 

New modelling will be presented to the state’s Emergency Management Council when it meets at 9am, ahead of a press conference later today.

The council, which comprises cabinet ministers as well as department chiefs and public health officers, replaces the now-abolished COVID-Ready committee, which was used by the former Marshall government to advise state coordinator Grant Stevens on changes to restrictions.

Malinauskas told reporters yesterday that the council would consider modelling showing how many COVID-19 cases are predicted if South Australia reduces the quarantine time for close contacts from 14 days down to seven in line with the other states.

He said he had also requested new modelling showing how many COVID-19 cases are predicted if the state relaxes mask-wearing rules.

“We want to make informed judgements,” he said. 

“Ultimately, of course, they are the Police Commissioner’s decisions to make as the state coordinator, but the more information we can have at the EMC tomorrow, the better for my team.”’

Malinauskas previously said that he would like the council to ensure South Australia’s restrictions match what is in place across the rest of the country.

In South Australia, people are deemed close contacts of positive cases if they spend 15 minutes or longer in the same room, despite the national definition of four hours.

Close contacts in South Australia must also isolate for 14 days, despite positive cases only having to quarantine for half that time.

The premier has also asked government lawyers to consider how South Australia can end its major emergency declaration by June, potentially by amending the state’s Public Health Act. 

The declaration, which has been in place for over two years, grants Stevens broad powers to impose restrictions without parliamentary oversight.

Malinauskas told reporters yesterday that the ongoing emergency declaration was one of the reasons why he had chosen not to take on any additional cabinet portfolios and would instead fully dedicate his time to carrying out the role as premier.

His cabinet, sworn in yesterday, features 15 ministers, including surprise additions Geoff Brock and former federal backbencher Nick Champion. 

Four ministers – Kyam Maher, Nat Cook, Katrine Hildyard and Andrea Michaels – attended yesterday’s swearing in ceremony remotely after being identified as close contacts or testing positive for COVID-19.

 – Stephanie Richards

NATO meets as Ukraine ‘destroys’ Russian ship

President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference after a NATO summit and Group of Seven meeting at NATO headquarters, Thursday, March 24, 2022, in Brussels. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Ukraine says it has destroyed a large Russian landing support ship, the Orsk, at the Russian-occupied port of Berdiansk on the Sea of Azov as NATO leaders meeting in Brussels agreed to strengthen the alliance’s forces in eastern Europe.

Video footage, which Reuters was able to confirm was filmed from inside Berdiansk, showed a column of smoke rising from a blaze at a dock and the flash of an explosion.

Two vessels, one of which appeared to have been damaged, were seen in the footage sailing out of the dock as a third ship burned.

Reuters could not confirm if it was the Orsk on fire in the film. 

Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar told a video briefing when asked about the Orsk that the ship was capable of carrying 45 armoured personnel carriers and 400 people.

At an unprecedented summit of the NATO military alliance, G7 members and European leaders addressed the continent’s biggest military crisis since the 1990s Balkans wars and new battle groups were announced for four eastern European countries.

The US and UK expanded sanctions blacklists, various countries announced new military and humanitarian aid as well as promises to take in refugees and the European Union was set to unveil steps to wean itself off Russian energy.

NATO, which has already beefed up its eastern flank to 40,000 troops spread from the Baltic to the Black Sea, agreed on Thursday to set up new combat units in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.

Still, the pledges stopped short of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s calls for a full boycott of Russian energy and a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

Thousands of people have been killed, millions made refugees and cities pulverised since Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on February 24.

More than 3.6 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion began, according to the United Nations. 

As US President Joe Biden rallied allies on his first trip aboard since the war began, the US announced new sanctions against Russia, $US1 billion ($A1.3 billion) more in humanitarian aid for Ukraine and an offer to take in 100,000 refugees.

As part of what Russia calls a “special military operation” launched almost a month ago, Russian forces have seized most of the Ukrainian coast along the Sea of Azov except for Mariupol, which has refused to surrender. 

Nick Xenophon eyes return to politics

Former senator Nick Xenophon is making a fresh tilt for the upper house at the federal election due in May.

“I’m back, because I give a damn,” the South Australian lawyer said on his campaign website which launched on Thursday.

Xenophon was first elected to the Senate for SA in 2007 and was re-elected in 2013 and 2016.

He resigned in October 2017 after he announced he was unsure whether he was a dual citizen, which would have made him ineligible to run for parliament.

However, the High Court later found Xenophon was validly elected and able to run for office.

He turned his attention to South Australian politics, running for a lower house seat in the 2018 state election under the SA Best party, but failed.

Xenophon said in a statement he had “tried to be a political hermit” for four years.

“I can no longer sit on the sidelines,” he said.

The odds are stacked against the former senator, as he won’t have a party to put his name above the line on the upper house ballot paper – a position only given to groups and parties.

He will be up against two of his former advisers, senators Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick.

However, Senator Patrick said he would make an announcement on Friday regarding his political intentions.

“Clearly Nick Xenophon’s decision to throw his hat into the SA Senate changes the landscape,” he said in a statement.

“I have worked for Nick as an adviser and I have great respect for him as a politician. He can again be a fine representative of our great state.”

Xenophon was renowned for his colourful stunts to gain attention for a range of issues from defence spending to the social impacts of gambling.

‘Powerhouse’ arts leader announced as Adelaide Festival’s new artistic director

Ruth Mackenzie has more than 40 years’ experience in the arts world. Photo: Joe Short

British arts leader Ruth Mackenzie has been appointed the next artistic director of the Adelaide Festival and will take up her new role in mid-2022 as current ADs Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield prepare to step back earlier than planned.

In announcing the appointment this morning, Adelaide Festival chair Judy Potter described Mackenzie as “a powerhouse of the British and European festival and arts communities”.

She has held numerous leadership roles over 40 years working in the sector and is currently a consultant artistic director for Let’s Do London (a campaign launched to help the city recover after COVID-19).

“She clearly recognises the strong connections we have with similar festivals in Europe, and she is not afraid to push the boundaries in reaching out to a younger demographic while appealing to our existing, fiercely loyal audience,” Potter said

Healy and Armfield were appointed joint artistic directors of the Adelaide Festival in 2015 and have had their contracts extended twice since then. The pair’s tenure was due to end with the 2023 Festival, but the transition to a new artistic director will now occur earlier than planned.

“It has been the great privilege of our lives to lead the artistic direction of the Adelaide Festival over the last seven years and we could not be more delighted with the response to the 2022 Festival,” Healy and Armfield said in a statement. 

“However, with 80 per cent of the major events scheduled for the 2023 Adelaide Festival either confirmed or well advanced, we both realised it’s now possible to take a step back from the unrelenting intensity of both COVID pressures and Festival programming.” 

Read the full story on InReview.

2022 Adelaide Cabaret Festival line-up unveiled

Aerial artistry with Cirque Bon Bon. Photo: Disclose Media

Artistic director Tina Arena has unveiled the program for this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival, with guests at tonight’s 2022 Variety Gala set to get a first taste of what’s in store for the 12-day festival in June.

“It’s a real mixed bag of candy,” says Arena, who has curated a list of artists who will present nearly 100 performances that showcase the very essence of what cabaret means to her.

Highlights will include a show by Marcia Hines at Her Majesty’s Theatre, in which she will celebrate memories from her childhood growing up in Boston and early experiences with gospel music, and the new State Opera “cabaret opera” How to Kill Your Husband (and other handy household hints), based on Australian writer Kathy Lette’s novel of the same name,

Other artists in the line-up include Brendan Maclean (star of 2021 Cabaret Festival highlight L’Hotel and former Fringe hit Velvet), Meow Meow (performing a new show with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra), Lior, comedian Paul McDermott (co-host of tonight’s Variety Gala), and Thirsty Merc musician Rai Thistlethwayte. 

Read the full story on InReview.

Blues’ twin towers deliver AFL warning

Carlton’s twin towers Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay have combined to kick nine goals to help the Blues defeat the Western Bulldogs by 12 points in a hard-fought encounter last night.

The pair managed just one goal between them in round one but put on a show for the Blues’ faithful at Marvel Stadium.

Curnow put several years of injury woes behind him with five goals – the 25-year-old’s equal second-best haul in 64 career games – while McKay booted four majors in a strong return.

In doing so, the tall targets powered Carlton to a second consecutive score of 100-plus points for the first time in almost six years.

The biggest roars from the crowd were for Curnow’s two crucial goals in the final term that kept the surging Bulldogs at bay.

“Charlie’s loved because he has been through a fair bit over his footy journey,” stand-in Blues coach Ash Hansen said.

“He’s just such a loveable kid and you want to see him out there doing what he loves. I’m really pleased for Charlie and Harry to both get a bit of reward tonight.”

McKay won the Coleman Medal with 58 goals last season but Carlton fans have been waiting for Curnow’s return to full fitness to add another dimension to the forward line.

Few clubs boast two tall targets in attack as dangerous as the Blues’ combination is threatening to become this year.

“Those two working together is a unique combination with their height and athleticism,” Hansen said.

“As long as they support one another they can get to really dangerous areas and challenge most defences.”

Carlton’s 16.6 (102) to 13.12 (90) victory gave them a 2-0 start for the first time in a decade as they seek to end their finals drought under new coach Michael Voss.

“It’s a mini-milestone whenever you put back-to-back wins together,” Hansen said.

“It’s still so early in the season and we’ve got so much growth (to come) and we’re certainly not getting carried away.”

– With AAP and Reuters

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